A Bad Book Description Can Kill Your Book Sales

This post is part two of the series, “Three Reasons Why Your Books Don’t Sell.”

bad book description

Your final book draft is ready to upload and start selling. But you forgot about that book description. No problem. You jot down a few high points from the plot, stick a tidbit in there about your main character’s dilemma and slap it up on KDP. Now you can just sit back and watch the sales roll in.

Shopping for books is an experience. Sometimes readers know exactly what they want and just where to find it. But what attracts their attention? Let’s look at some numbers.

Mark Dawson author and Self Publishing Formula entrepreneur sends out an annual reader survey and this year he got 5700 responses. Statistically speaking, that is a pretty valid sample. When he asked the readers, what helped them most to buy his book, the number one answer was the book description (35 percent indicated this first). Next came reviews (26 percent), then the Look Inside (21 percent), and book cover brought up the rear at 6.7 percent. Dawson made the point that if you pro-rate all those assets into your book sales, the book description actually becomes very valuable.

Copywriting is Not the Same as Writing a Book

One of the biggest mistakes authors make is treating their book descriptions like a Cliff Notes version of their book. Honestly, your story probably isn’t too different from the thousands of other stories out there in your genre when it comes right to it. And copywriting is not summarizing your book. It’s about leading people to buy. And it is formulaic.

I started writing radio commercials back in the 1980s. They were called speculation ads (or spec ads) because salespeople would take them to new clients as an example of how we could position their product on the crowded airwaves. Spec ads were many times more effective than a plain verbal pitch. They allowed a potential client to hear how their product could connect with an audience. Most businesses just wanted us to tell listeners about their wonderful product–mistake. We wanted clients to hear how their product was going to meet a need that a customer had. It wasn’t about what the business wanted to say, it was about what the customer wanted to hear.

The Magic Formula

Before we put spec ads together we did in-depth research on a potential client’s target market. We knew exactly what they were looking for and made sure we put together an ad they could see themselves in right from the beginning. And we used an age-old formula called hook-line-sinker. I still use a version of this formula today as a template to remind me there are three important parts in every piece of sales copy.

The hook peeks interest and draws the reader in to identify with the problem. For fiction readers that might be a search to be entertained, the desire to find an endearing hero, an adventure, or an adrenaline rush. It is well crafted and draws people into the line.

In The Adweek Copywriting Handbook, Joseph Sugarman writes of an important element in any good piece of copy: the first line has to get the reader to go to the next line and so forth until they reach the all-important “sinker” or call-to-action. He talks about creating an enticing environment with your sales page–one that weds image and copy together to keep the reader moving through the pitch to buy.

Bryan Cohen, author of How To Write A Sizzling Synopsis recommends brainstorming 20 hooks and then polishing the best one. He calls it the single most important  in your description. I agree.

The line is the section of the copy where you continue the hook. You need to make sure your hook is not click bait, or totally unrelated to the “line” portion of your copy. The hook gets them to read the next part of the ad. Keep the reader’s attention by moving through the problem, or describing the high points of the story in a way to entices them to read the book. Make an emotional connection. Choose your words wisely. You don’t need an overload of character names and places here.

The sinker is the call-to-action. How can the reader solve their problem? Scroll up and buy the book now. Complete the cycle—tell them how they can solve the problem now.

Conquer the Copy

I only previewed the basics above but I want to leave you with four good resources on copywriting. If your book descriptions are just after thoughts you are leaving money on the table. Learn the skill and increase your book sales. And just like your author bio, make sure you know how to write both short and long forms. Some discount sites require a short version of your description—more of a blurb. The formula works for ad copy as well as full length book descriptions.


How to Write Copy That Sells by Ray Edwards

How to Write a Sizzling Synopsis by Bryan Cohen (specifically aimed at books)

The Adweek Copywriting Handbook by Joseph Sugarman

*Words That Sell by Richard Bayan – This is a mandatory desk reference for anyone that writes sales copy (that’s you). It contains thousands of sample words and phrases you can use in just about any ad. Must buy.

First article in the series: Why A Bad Cover Will Tank Your Sales

  • Chris Syme

    Hi James–I just love Dave Chesson–he is great. I have a couple observations. I personally would not use PickFu to test book descriptions. “Avid fiction readers” is too broad a category. As Bryan Cohen would tell you–different genres have different description conventions. Also, I hesitate using book reviews as a source of learning to write book descriptions. A review and a description have specifically different purposes. For a beginning copywriter this might cause some confusion.

    I test book descriptions with these groups: my author network–friends that write in the same genre. I have about six people that share in a network of checking each other’s work. All those people have studied successful copywriting practices like Bryan’s book. I also test with advanced reviewers and beta readers. I don’t recommend posting them in large Facebook groups of authors unless that is the purpose of the group. Too much conflicting advice. My recommendation would be to read Bryan’s book and really absorb the process there. That is half the battle–knowing how to execute the elements of a good description. I also do as Dave suggests and that is look at the descriptions of the top 100 books in that genre and learn the good and bad from those descriptions. I use K-Lytics as a source for this. Their genre reports are inexpensive and contain this piece (book descriptions of top 100) in addition to a lot of other great info. Once you really dig in and learn Bryan’s system you’ll be able to spot a good one when you see it (including your own). I also agree with Dave that presentation is important and using a handy tool like his description generator is a part of the process as well. Good luck!

  • James W

    I recently came across a case study which mentions some of the same resources here, such as Bryan Cohen’s ‘Sizzling Synopsis’.


    One cool thing about the case study is it breaks down exactly how to use a methodical process to test reader expectations, and ensure that the eventual book description is the best it can be, through a/b testing.

    Has anyone else had any experience with a/b testing a description? Is Pickfu the best service to use?